As a doorman, I've seen more violence and conflict than the average
person. In fact, I have a fascination with conflict and how people
react to it. But one of the most puzzling and frustrating scenarios
for anyone in a 'combat situation' is the Bystander Effect.
My definition of the Bystander Effect is: A third party who begins
to yell or interfere in some fashion when a professional (law
enforcement officer, security professional, or bouncer) is trying
to execute a physical restraint in the course of their duty.
Now, the Bystander Effect occurs because:
They are not fully informed: Having only seen a part of the
conflict, the bystander doesn't know how and why the violence is
occurring. They assume that the 'professional' is acting
excessively against someone who doesn't deserve it.
They are unfamiliar with violence: Perhaps the only violence the
bystander has seen has been in the movies. They do not know that
real world violence is quick, nasty, and uncoordinated at times.
The violence shocks their system and they automatically pick on the
authority figure that is "winning" and "restraining" the combative
They place themselves in the shoes of the person: People will often
place themselves in someone else's shoes who they can relate to.
Bystanders cannot relate to LEO or Security Professionals because
they have no formal experience of the job. Therefore, they assume
the role (mentally) of the combative person.
They don't understand resistance: They have no idea how hard it is
to restrain someone who doesn't want to be restrained. They think
that the professional should be able to hold the combative person
down with little to no force. They may not realize that the
combative person may be much stronger than the professional so
harder techniques will have to be employed.
They are misinformed about body dynamics and combative training: In
order to fully restrain someone, a certain amount of force and
pressure has to be applied to the body. This pressure is being
applied to STOP the combative person from fighting. Once that has
occurred, just enough pressure is applied to hold or take the
person into custody. The bystander may think a bouncer or martial
artist have special bullet proof moves to keep people in place.
They do not know what the force continuum is: Again, they have no
idea what type of physical response would be used with a combative
person. Actively aggressive persons cannot be controlled with light
escort or pain compliance techniques.
They think authority figures are bullies: Many bystanders who
interfere have problems themselves with authority figures and make
the sweeping judgment that all are bullies, toughs, and ego driven
monsters. They may have an axe to grind or a past negative
experience with one of these professionals.
How do you change the mind of a bystander?
Let me first say that I have 20 years of martial and combative
experience behind my belt. I've also been involved in over 200
physical confrontations. I am what the average person would call
"skilled". However, trying to control or restrain someone who
doesn't want to be is no walk in the park. The fluid nature of
combat, including movement, objects, weapons, and other potential
hazards on the street, makes easy restraint quite difficult.
Don't believe me? Just ask a friend to try and not let you hold on
to their wrist. They will pull, turn, jab, kick and trip you in
order to get their wrist free. They win because they don't have to
play by the same rules as you. You are just trying to hold on while
they can do what they please to avoid it. The analogy is touch vs.
tackle football. You play touch and they get to play tackle.
Therefore, the type of professionals I mentioned above realize that
simple restraints against a non compliant combative person is NOT
going to work. They have to change their game to "play tackle" in
order to gain control of the subject. This doesn't mean they hammer
on them, only that they have to up the level of force against a non
compliant person to gain control over them.
The bystander has to realize that these professions deal with
violence on a common and frequent basis. The average citizen gets
to walk blindly through their everyday tasks while cops and
bouncers are rolling around in alley ways with junkies and
criminals. These professionals protect the bystander from the ugly
consequence of violence.
If you are a bystander, next time you see a conflict occur between
these two groups, take a deep breath and realize that it is more
than likely that the person the professional is trying to restrain
just committed a crime (commonly assault of another poor
bystander). The professionals' job is often thankless and the
bystander effect is like the rubbing salt in the wound of what they
I help people. I hate victimization. And I would surely hope some
of you would help me if I was in trouble one day because, for the
past 13 years, my only reward for helping strangers has been that
they get to return home safely to their love ones.
In my article "The Bystander Effect", I dealt with the common
problem security guards, doormen, and law enforcement officers'
(LEO) face while executing an arrest or restraint on a subject.
Often a third party (or parties) will begin to interfere in some
fashion (usually in the form of yelling) when one of these
professionals is dealing with a hostile subject.
There are four levels of subjects involved in this phenomenon. They
1)The Professional (You)
2)The Subject or Suspect (the person you are restraining) also
called the 1st party.
3)The 2nd Party (friends of the 1st party who get involved or
third party persons who involve themselves physically while you are
trying to restrain someone.
4)The 3rd party (the Bystander(s) who yell and scream at the
apparent miscarriage of justice that they are witnessing).
I should note that there is a slight difference when doormen and
security are dealing with this problem compared to LEO. This is due
to a greater force presence perceived by the bystander of the LEO
because of societal constructs of their job. To simplify: A cop has
a gun and can arrest me and bring me to jail. A bouncer has none of
these so I can continue to call him an A$$hole.
There is generally less fear getting hostile towards a security
guard or doorman than that of a police officer. However, alcohol
or anger often overrides a bystanders 'good sense of judgment' and
they let the verbal onslaught pour out over anyone they think is
'misusing their power'. This may include the police.
I have had many emails and questions asking, "How does one deal
with The Bystander Effect?" Believe it or not, many of the tactics
I use, I learned while getting my philosophy degree. Logic, ethics
and fallacious ways of thinking gave me insights on how the common
person perceives their surroundings.
Below are some common solutions to this problem and ways you can
curb the hostilities of a crowd:
Be Quick, Stay Calm and In Control: In riot situations, the police
are trained to stay calm but are careful to not give off an air of
subservience. If the bystander notices weakness, they might build
up enough courage to act physically towards the professional. By
keeping a strong level head, the professional can prevent a simple
arrest turning into a multi person brawl. Make sure you restrain
the person as quickly as possible. The longer it takes, the more
violence is perceived by the crowd.
Talk to the Subject: By letting the subject know why you are
restraining (arresting) them, might take the potential fight out of
the crowd. Remember, this is about "taming a hostile crowd" and
certain psychological tricks have to be employed. You are actually
talking to the crowd in an inadvertent manner. If the bystander(s)
hear the reason for your action, this might take the initial wind
out of their sails so they don't start up with you. Bystanders
usually start acting up when they see prolonged violence without
any explanation on why it is occurring.
"Stop resisting! We are holding you (arresting you) for the assault
on the other person. Buddy, we don't want to hurt you! Stop
resisting so we can sort this all out."
Move the Subject: If may be a good idea, if you can, to move your
subject to another location. Out of sight, out of mind. The longer
the bystander witnesses you struggling with someone, the easier it
is for them the start slinging verbal assaults in your direction.
Therefore, time is the key. Moving the subject to a lobby, office,
or quiet place, might help everyone involved.
However, do not try to move an actively aggressive person. They
will take that opportunity while back on their feet to punch, kick
or run from you, making the situation worse.
Crowd Control: Getting the crowd back and dispersed is your best
bet to curb a potential bystander effect from occurring. The
further away people are from a restraint, the less likely they will
be able to point out your so called mistakes and wrong doings. This
is all fine and good, but unless you have a staff of 10, this may
be difficult to manage. Even though you are calmly saying "Move
along folks", human nature is to watch these events unfold. When
was the last time you passed a car wreck and didn't look?
Appeal to Emotion: I've used this many times with outstanding
effect and it is my main weapon against bystanders. While the
bystander is standing there yelling at you and trying to get your
badge number and name because of the 'apparent miscarriage of
justice' that they are witnessing (you'll notice I always put that
line in quotes because the bystanders never have enough information
to make a proper informed decision. They are riding an emotional
wave, not a logical one) you can tell them that the subject just
committed some heinous crime.
In the hundreds of bystander effects I've been involved in, the
3rd party gets fixated on the violence of the situation and
automatically assumes that the professionals are being bullies and
over aggressive. They don't understand that it is easy and quicker
to restrain with 3 people than with one (we want a control not a
Once you've restrained, if possible, get another professional to
talk with the crowd. What this person has to do is appeal to the
bystanders higher sense of right. Everyone has a scale of good and
bad things in society. Some things are worse than others. What you
are trying to do is over ride the current 'bad' with something
'worse'. You are trying to get the bystander to click in and say
"Wow, really? That is why you are holding him? What an a$$hole!"
You see, while it isn't ethically correct to lie to people in
general, sometimes my partner(S) safety will override that. I'll
often use lines like:
1)He just smashed an old (young girl) lady in the face with a
2)The person just ran out on their tab, hit our beer tub girl in
the face and we are holding them for the police.
3)He just grabbed a girl and forced himself onto her.
*All of the above lines have come from TRUE situations with I have
been involved in, so I guess I am technically not lying, just
mixing up the facts (okay, that is called justification).
In Western society, the assault of a female is almost a sure fire
way to appeal to someone's sense of emotion. You may think this
tactic is sexist or not politically correct, but it works. If it is
stupid and works, it isn't stupid now is it? My ethics professor
use to say: Just because someone has labeled something as political
correct, it doesn't make it right or true. There are deep seeded
notions in our psychological make up that are really difficult to
Example: You watch the news and see several deaths in a war torn
country and shake your head. You see a news report on a puppy that
that has been beaten and you shed a tear (and want to kill someone
for doing this). Appeal to their emotional state and try to turn
them into your advocates.
Know Your Crowd: A quick overview of you is yelling and screaming
will give you an indication of what you are dealing with. Is it a
hippy with an over sense of consciousness? Is it a 3rd law student
who thinks she knows everything? Is it a mother out for the night?
Is a street vagrant with a hate on for authority figures?
The best piece of advice I ever got from my mother was "know your
audience." If you do, you can manipulate and form them how you
wish. Great orators (speakers) tend to speak TO YOU and not at you.
If you can speak to individual, try and understand where they are
coming from. Be polite and calm. Watch the pitch and tone of your
"I understand you may think this is excessive, but please
understand we are trying to resolve this issues with as little
force as necessary."
I would say this works about 20% of the time.
Identify the Ring Leader: and cut off their head (not literally of
course). You need to isolate the ring leader in the crowd. The one
who is the loudest and most vocal. This person will get the others
to act up if left long enough. Having a few professionals move
towards this person will draw away from what is occurring on the
ground. The crowd will re focus on the new stimuli (what's
happening over there).
The lines you can use can range from "you aren't making the
situation any better by yelling at us" to "please keep your
distance" and moving in towards them so they move back (forced
Get Tough: A strong arm tactic when eloquence just won't cut it.
You need to get the crowd back and NOW. Their drunken state isn't
registering the other fine points you've tried.
1)Get the F#$K back.
2)Back OFF! You are preventing me from doing my job.
You won't be seen as a hero in this one but you've kept them back.
Don't try and to talk to the crowd while restraining someone. Have
your partners do it. You need to focus on the subject to calm them
down and get their higher brain functions working again.
So, where does that leave you? Every situation is different and the
number of bystanders will vary. I would say the key factors to
keeping the bystander effect from happening are:
1)A quick restraint
2)Moving the subject away from a crowd (if possible)
3)Appealing to the crowds sense of emotion (see above)
4)Separate the ring leaders from the crowd
5)Crowd dispersal (if possible)
6)Get Tough (verbal commands to stay back)
Hope this helps.
1333 Le Burel Pl, Victoria, BC v8m 1g8, CANADA